As a fashion designer and avid traveler, I decided to combine my two passions. I wanted to visit various rural areas of India in search of inspiration, experience, and knowledge. One of the most amazing prints, typical to India is Bagh prints. It is made exclusively in Madhya Pradesh.
I was extremely impressed with Bagh, which is located at the heart of rural Madhya Pradesh in Dhar district. Of course, going to a village and understanding an alien culture is no easy feat. Also, I was extremely apprehensive about venturing into an unknown town. But I understood that journeying away from my comfort zone into the unknown will help me. I aspired to produce unique designs rather than the mundane ones I was churning out. I wanted to create something fresh, peculiar or even eccentric. Additionally, it would provide the necessary knowledge to know about the struggles of rural craftsmen and weavers.
Upon entering the arid region, speaking to locals, I was enjoying their warm hospitality. It seemed like my fears were gradually vanishing. I meandered through the narrow roads and met numerous villagers. I was greeted with vibrant hues and refreshing sights and sounds (and even mouth-watering smell!). Slowly but surely, I made friends, had meaningful conversations. I started embracing the culture of Madhya Pradesh. Besides the famous Buddhist Bagh caves, the little town is known for its handloom industry. Specifically, they make and distribute beautifully designed, aesthetically appealing Bagh printed fabrics. After ample conversations with the local weavers and traversing the local streets, I realized the heart and soul of the city lie in block-printed designs. Skilled and proficient artisans deftly craft these designs at homes and in factories. Interested, I delved deeper into the fine art of Bagh printing.
History of Bagh Prints:
Apparently, this art form emerged when immigrants of the Khatri community decided to migrate from Sindh to other villages. They did so in search of food, shelter, and work. Comfortably settling in Bagh, the friendly foreigners didn’t just bring with them their idiosyncratic habits and peculiar culture. They also brought with them the art of block printing on fabrics. I have spoken to many members of the Khatri community. I want to share the fascinating art that is the bread and butter of this community.
Albeit the entire process is time-consuming, but as they say patience is a virtue. Hence, the results of this process are mesmerizing, to say the least. Hardworking artisans soak the fabric in raw sea salt and unrefined castor oil. Then, they dry it under the shining sun three times (once is not enough). After the last drying session, the fabric is washed in a solution comprising of Harada powder. This provides a certain depth. The canvas is then made ready for block printing. After drying the cloth again, the fabric is washed in the river. Subsequently, it is boiled in water peppered with Dhavdi flowers and Aal tree roots in a massive copper vessel. This process provides a deep, rich hue. In addition, I found that the high copper content in Bagh River was conducive to the process. Maybe that is why the Khatri community chose this special place?
Once the fabric is ready, wooden blocks that are carved with intricate designs are used to further enhance the stellar design. Usually, hues of red, black and indigo are used in tandem to create impressive and multifarious designs embossed unto the fabric. Vegetable dyes are used for creating the fabric and design. Therefore, the finished product is bio-friendly. Isn’t that a much-needed refreshing change from synthetic fabrics and manufactured colours containing allergens?
Bagh Prints Design:
Professional and experienced carpenters carve the design on the motif and immerse it in oil for storage. This prevents hordes of termites invading the delicately woven pattern. The best part is that Bagh craftsmen relentlessly create a plethora of designs to capture the traditional as well as the western wear market. Every block creates a three-dimensional brocade effect that is rarely found in other parts of India.
Bagh printed shirts and Kurtis prove to be a bane in hot, sweltering summers. The village boasts a regular national as well as international clientele. In fact, I read about renowned international Bagh artist Ismail Sulemanji Khatri. He employed about fifty artisans in a bid to create an exclusive Bagh printed carpet in accordance with this tradition. He even sells it to numerous international clients. (Source: here)
My journey proved to be very fruitful and gave me the inspiration I was looking for. I even ended up employing a struggling Bagh artist to create designs that I could use for my collection. I was touched when he thanked me for a fair price that I paid him for his talent. Although it is hard to visit Bagh in order to support struggling artisans, you can do your bit by visiting websites such as Fabrics Of India. It provides a diverse range of authentic Bagh printed clothing devoid of machine manufactured ones. The company assists artisans of the region in procuring a steady stream of income. If you have an affinity to ethnic wear I strongly suggest to purchase a few fabrics and infuse some fun into your boring wardrobe.